May 312016

You may have heard about it or not, but if not I can tell you: Alexander Van der Bellen won the Austrian presidency.

It was tight. On Sunday night Norbert Hofer, the nationalist with the friendly face, was in front with 52%, but at that time none of the absentee ballots had been counted. We thankfully don’t use voting machines and we count manually. In order to avoid 20 hour counting marathons with all their potential for human error, absentee ballots are counted the day after.

Normally this does not matter. It may shift a seat in a general election, but it hardly makes a difference.

Not so this time. Results of absentee ballots have a strong bias towards progressive. It’s a result of the distribution of voters who use absentee voting. They tend to be from the cities, younger and better educated, more open to change. Obviously that does not correlate well with people who vote for closed borders, hate against muslims and traditional values of the past.

Everybody knew that Alexander Van der Bellen, the former head of the Green Party, would get a mighty boost from absentee ballots, but would it suffice? Sunday night the projections were for 50.0% vs 50.0%, with an overhang of arond 3000 votes for Van der Bellen. With more than four million voters and a margin of deviation of 0.7% nobody knew.

The next afternoon, half an hour before the official result was presented, Norbert Hofer conceded defeat via Facebook. A single district was missing, that’s what was delaying the official result, but at that time it was clear the he would miss presidency by around 30.000 votes.

What did Hofer’s party? Well, they did what they always do. It was hard to attack the counting committees because they had had seats in all of them, but declaring the election invalid was not even the goal. Obviously they were mostly interested in creating a myth, something along the lines of the old Stab-in-the-back myth.

Knowing that the bias of absentee votes would not be in their favor, they already began to declare “doubts” about the absentee voting system weeks before the election. Thus when defeat came, their followers were already primed and “knew” that victory “had been taken” from them and how.

The party itself called for moderation, but they also played with ambiguities. For instance they always said they would still consider an appeal, but they wouldn’t go for it when the irregularities were not massive enough to change the result. On the other hand they didn’t find major irregularities either.

In some districts the counting of absentee ballots had begun too early, but their results were not off the trend.

One district had counted correctly but reported wrong results for the turnout of voters. But then, 145% having voted is obviously wrong and when sums and checksums of votes are correct, there is no problem either. It’s just the usual small percentage of human errors. It’s exactly what the voting system’s builtin checks are designed to capture and what capture they did.

Years ago I’ve worked as election supervisor in a polling station for a few elections. It’s a stressful job. You sleep bad for fear of being late at the polling station. Before the first voters are admitted at 7:00, you must already have counted the number of ballot papers. In the evening, after the election and after having counted the votes, you will have to count again what’s left. Woe to the supervisor when the numbers don’t sum up. It’s an example for one of the numerous small checks.

That’s the whole character of our election system. It is well designed, robust, tried and tested. Therefore, from my long experience with elections I strongly reject the possibility of fraud. It would be easier with voting machines, but our manual system involves much too many people. This is a rich country with a long history of democratic elections. No chaos can be exploited and no violent riots, as they so often plague elections in young democracies.

And again: functionaries of Hofer’s Freedom Party were present everywhere and in all phases. They’ve verified and signed the whole process.

Knowing all that and knowing that everybody else should also know it, I’ve spent some time looking at the comments on Hofer’s Facebook page. Oh my! The party’s strategy of whispered doubt and murmured speculation had yielded fruit.

This is a dangerous thing, because it tries to compensate for loss of an election by de-legitimizing the whole democratic system. Some idiots even called for violence and others posted Van der Bellen’s private address. #notinmyname and #notmypresident were the hash tags.

But then, that’s Jörg Haider’s party, the party still playing with oblique Nazi references, the party that attracts neo-Nazis like flies are attracted by rotten flesh.

3511 – The Diver

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3511 – The Diver
May 302016

The water near the shore of river Danube in Vienna may be a strange place for a monument, but when it is for Hans Hass, diver, biologist and filmmaker, Viennese, it makes perfect sense, don’t you think so? And besides, the glittering sun shining through the canvas is nothing but beautiful.

3509 – Two White Geese

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3509 – Two White Geese
May 282016

While I used the Nikon D300, I had an 85/1.4 AI-S and an 85/1.8. In terms of size and weight, the 85/1.4 was a monster. I’ve later tried to use it with the Olympus E-P2 and an adapter, but I soon lost interest. The adapter added to the length, and the whole thing was pretty unbalanced.

The 85/1.8 was much smaller and lighter, but wide open it suffered from purple fringing. It was an old design, clearly not made for digital cameras.

Why do I mention that? The reason is, that in terms of equivalent focal length at 35mm they are more or less the same. It’s the classic portrait lens.

Of course the Olympus 45/1.8 can’t match the mighty Nikon 85/1.4 in bokeh wide open. In fact it can’t even match the Nikon 85/1.8. It does not matter though. If I want something close to that, I just use the much bigger and heavier Olympus 75/1.8. In terms of bokeh it’s wonderful, in terms of shallow DOF it’s close but not there. It is still smaller than the 85/1.4 AI-S that I had and it weighs 300g. That’s half of the Nikon. Of course both Olympus lenses focus extremely fast, none will ever show front- or backfocus. That’s one of the big advantages of mirrorless cameras: focus is always accurate and you don’t ever need focus adjustment settings.

But really, most of the time I am not interested in shallow DOF at all. I can have it if I want to, but if not, I enjoy a trio of featherweights, for instance 12/2.0, 25/1.8 and 45/1.8. That’s one main reason why I always come back to this small, sharp and precise lens.

3508 – Zigzag

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3508 – Zigzag
May 272016

Taken out of context, an image often simply can’t be placed. While tagging this one for the blog, I was sure it had been taken in Carinthia, peobably near home. I couldn’t remember the situation, but at least Carinthia seemed like a safe bet.

Wrong. It was in Vienna. I still can’t place it exactly, but now I remember.

That’s the difference between taking images as memories and doing what I do. I like to call it art (and I think that I sometimes succeed in that regard), but whatever you call it, it’s not for the purpose of recording memories. Rather much to the contrary 😀

3507 – Lonely Stairs at the Railway Station

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3507 – Lonely Stairs at the Railway Station
May 262016

This image was taken at f5.6, 1/20s and ISO 1600. I wouldn’t have needed DxO to process it. I did, just to try out their keystone correction tool.

Well, it works 😀

In the end, the result of my evaluation of DxO Optics Pro 10 was that I bought it. You need the “Elite” version in order to get PRIME noise reduction, and while I was at it, I just bought the whole suite, including Viewpoint (the geometry correction tool, also with support for eye-friendly de-fishing) and Filmpack.

Since then I have hardly used it – but still, for the things it does well, mostly high ISO noise reduction, it is a nice arrow to have in your quiver.

3506 – DOOM?

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3506 – DOOM?
May 252016

I’ve never been a big fan of the original DOOM. In 2004 I bought DOOM3, played it for a while, and I still think it had a great mix of at least some story, lots of atmosphere, satisfying speed (I’m talking about the single player campaign) and still quite impressive graphics.

Two weeks ago the new “DOOM” came out. It should have been DOOM4, but was released without a number. Well, if Leica can do it, why not id Software 🙂

I’ve not bought it. I have no system that could adequately run it, but most of all I am not interested. It’s an intense orgy of bloodshed and gore (well, what did you expect, it’s DOOM, you say?), and it progresses on high speed, at least on par with the original from 20 years ago (and that’s bad, you ask?).

Yes, that’s bad 🙂

I’ve seen a few videos (they are aplenty on YouTube) and they looked like a constant stream of mindless jumping and gunning. They didn’t give me the feeling of an interesting or scary exploration, they just looked like maximally stressful work with little variation. Thanks, I already have a job 😀

3505 – There She Goes

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3505 – There She Goes
May 242016

Another image, another tool. This time it’s not DxO, this time it is Viveza, the probably most interesting part of the Nik suite recently released by Google.

If you don’t know Viveza, but have a Nikon background, then you probably remember Nikon Capture NX2. It was a relatively slow but very good proprietary RAW converter with an unusual user interface designed by Nik Software. It circled around the concept of “Control Points”. You set a point and it was immediately decorated with a vertical bar and a set of sliders. One of them could be used to change the diameter of the affected area, the other changed things like luminosity, saturation, contrast, color temperature, etc. The usual things.

This concept proved very successful. It was immediatly accessible, easily understandable, and you could do a lot of things that would have needed painting and layers in other tools. All in all I would consider the user interface great. A minimum learning curve, maximum effect.

For one reason or the other the relationship between Nikon and Nik Software broke, Nik was bought by Google, and now Google has given everything away for free. Viveza is basically Capture NX, but not restricted to Nikon.

You can use the tools stand-alone or as plugins for the usual hosts, most notably Lightroom and Photoshop.

Do I need it? Let’s say that took this image early March, and so far I have not processed any other image with Viveza. Well, I have Photoshop available as part of my Lightroom subscription and I hardly use that either. Your mileage may vary though, and if you’ve never tried it, you should definitely give it a shot. You may well like it.

3502 – Night is Falling Into a River

 Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45 mm f/1.8  Comments Off on 3502 – Night is Falling Into a River
May 212016

Even at f1.8 and 1/10s I had to raise ISO to 800 in this image. That’s not very high, but I had plans for brightening the sky. That’s always a dangerous endeavor in digital images.

Approximately at that time Google had released their Nik suite with Dfine 2, a noise reduction plugin that I had tried years ago. I took the chance to pitch it against Topaz DeNoise 6 (also acquired years ago and upgraded with the old license for free – thanks Topaz!) and against Lightroom’s built-in noise reduction. And while I was at it, I decided to also test it against DxO Optics Pro’s PRIME noise reduction.

My suspicions were justified. In order to get anything out of Dfine and DeNoise that is as good or better than the results from Lightroom, you need a lot of fiddling. You may get better results in Photoshop, because there you could use different strengths and settings on different layers and then work with masks, but in Lightroom I see no advantage of such a plugin over what you already have paid for.

DxO was a different beast though. Basically it blew everything else out of the water. The difference was so obvious, that I don’t bother you with 100% crops.

You most likely see it in the blue of the sky. I had wanted to raise it from what the camera recorded, and due to the peculiarities of Bayer array sensors, blue is a very vulnerable color. Red is so as well, but most of the time you don’t have big dark red areas with smooth gradients in an image. If the sky is red, it’s brightly so, and your consideration is normally not to raise its level, but to keep it from burning out.

DxO PRIME was introduced years ago and I have already tried it in the past. On my old laptop it was marvelous but slow. Processing one single image took between five and eight minutes.

I have no idea how they managed it and it can’t only be my not-so-new-anymore Macbook Pro. Somehow DxO has sped up PRIME by a factor of 10. Now processing an image takes around 40 seconds. I still don’t do it for every image, but it pays off for very high ISO or if you want to strongly brighten up dark areas.

It’s not only detail noise though. Color noise reduction may be much less obvoius than detail noise reduction, but it is responsible for the washed out look of high-ISO images. In fact DxO’s color noise reduction is vastly superior to everything that I’ve seen before.

I’ll show you some more examples in the course of the next few days.

May 192016

I took these images while waiting at the gas station for my turn at the car wash.

The DIY store on the other side of the street has just been taken over by a big German chain. It sports some big advertising banners along the main street, that have been changed to show the new design. Actually I had liked the old design better. It was more stylized and it had, although being gaudy, a much more tasteful combination of colors. The new big posters with artificially smiling “friendly faces” get quickly annoying when you see them every day 🙂

Apropos friendly faces. Next Sunday we have the run-off election for the presidency in Austria. The first ballot didn’t come as a total surprise, but nobody had expected such an unusual result.

From six candidates, only one, Richard Lugner, owner of a big construction business and something like a harmless Donald Trump, was considered chanceless. So he was.

Irmgard Griess, a former judge, entered the race as an independent candidate. For my taste she was a bit eager to get elected, tried to get support from almost any political party, and was in the end supported by the NEOS, a neo-liberal party that’s relatively new in Austria.

Alexander Van der Bellen, a professor for economics and for years head of the Green Party, was leading in all the polls.

The Social Democrats nominated one of their ministers, Rudolf Hundsdorfer, a man rooted in the unions. It was clear that he would not make it into the run-off, but then, the ruling party just had to nominate someone.

The Social Democrats are in a never-ending coalition with the Conservatives, a coalition that looked like a grid-lock for ages, a marriage without love. One of their mightiest politicians, Erwin Pröll, the governor of Lower Austria, was expected to be their candidate until February, but then even he finally realized that he is extremely unpopular everywhere but in his own province. He drew back, which is bad luck for Lower Austria. A lost election would have been an elegant way to get rid of him.

They also had to nominate someone who could be sure not to win, and so Andreas Kohl became their candidate. He is an intelligent, cynical former secretary of the party, the architect of their catastrophic coalition with late Jörg Haider’s right-wing populists, a man well acquainted with intrigue.

And then there was of course the populist Freedom Party, formerly led by Jörg Haider, then and now a safe haven for nasty nationalist politics with strong fascist tendencies. They tumble from one scandal to the next, but it does not seem to hurt their standing. During and after their last time in government, they were involved in innumerous dubious affairs, many leading to prosecutions, but somehow the so-called “wave of refugees” last year has washed that memory away.

Norbert Hofer is their candidate. He is the “friendly face” of the party, a man who gets across as humble and congenial on first and maybe second sight. Incidentally he is also the youngest of the candidates.

People in Austria tend to be pretty xenophobic. I found it surprising, that our current government didn’t give in to right-wing pressure when Angela Merkel opend German borders for Syrian refugees, but then, they were only travelling through. We greeted them with a toast and waved them good-bye.

Carrying the real weight cost the German government dearly. Angela Merkel’s popularity tumbled, and finally Germany began to close borders. Austria was next. In a desperate attempt to re-gain popularity, our goverment turned their stance and began to act as hard-liners in Europe. It was too late though. Currently everybody agrees, that if we had general elections now, the Freedom Party would come ahead by a considerable margin.

The result of the first ballot was grim. Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, the man whom everybody and their polls has expected to come in as second after a strongly leading Alexander Van der Bellen, Norbert Hofer earned 35%. Alexander Van der Bellen, my personal favorite, was lucky to make it into the run-off with 21%. Suddenly the race was very, very open at best, although many commentators already see Norbert Hofer as our next president.

Would that matter? The answer is yes. The Austrian president has a very powerful position, and it is only due to tradition, that the presidents don’t use their power to determine politics.

The president can, for instance, dissolve an elected government if he thinks they don’t do their job. You can take it for granted that Norbert Hofer has visions of what a government’s job is, that run contrary to everything the current government stands for, and likely to most of what his current voters expect or desire.

As a president, Norbert Hofer could dissolve the government at any time, and of course he would do so in a situation that most favors his Freedom Party. If they came out as winners of general elections (as it’s likely), he would hardly accept a government without the Freedom Party (if it were possible at all) and he would make sure that H.C. Strache, their party leader, is the next chancellor.

Would that matter? Well, if you look at the protagonists, I fear it would. Strache is likely a puppet. He, a former dental technician with an ever leering grin instead of intellectual prowess, has a long history of contacts with the extreme right. I don’t deem him a leader, but he is a symbol for what has become possible in the wake of Jörg Haider. Hardly anyone in his retinue is better.

Norbert Hofer is probably even more dangerous, because he is definitely intelligent. He is the main author of the party’s current program, and in the meanwhile the friendly mask has worn thin. Hofer sees his chance and he is not only determined to win, he is also determined to change this country.

As all the nationalist populists in Europe he is extremely anti-european, against the Euro as a currency, and most of all against open borders.

If you think of it, among the many things that the EU has improved in Europe, the open borders of the Schengen-zone and the Euro are probably what normal people enjoy most. The borders have become symbolic, you can just drive across to Italy for a coffee and you can even pay it in your own currency. It is a dream-come-true, but not for the lurkers in the brown swamp at the right.

Hungary and Poland are good examples of what right-wing populist governments can do to a country. In Hungary Viktor Orbán gained almost the majority needed to change the constitution, while in Poland the new government has at least an absolute majority. In both countries there are repressions against journalists and dissidents. Both governments do their best to change the rules, in order to make sure that they never again can lose an election.

Therefore: if you are Austrian and if you have not voted yet, do us all a favor and vote for Alexander Van der Bellen. Do it, even if you don’t like him. Do it, even if you were disgusted by everyone and had decided not to vote at all. Go out and do it, even if you think he’s just the lesser evil. He may be so, but for sure he would be so by a giant margin.

Thanks for making it down here 😀